New Tool to Raise Awareness on Menstruation Issues
Girls growing up in remote hill villages in Far-Western Nepal can face difficult menstruation management challenges and taboos. These include the lack of knowledge of normal bodily processes and sanitary materials; community and religious taboos, and fear of discussing things openly; and exclusion of menstruating girls from schools and even from their own house, in many cases.
The development of new methods of online communication, such as Zoom, gave the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) staff the idea of running online discussions, trainings and webinars on complex topics, such as menstruation. This gives us the opportunity to bring together people from all over the project working area (and globally) despite COVID-19 related restrictions.
We held an online webinar for a wide audience on 31st of March 2021 on Dignified Menstruation Management. Participants included schoolgirls from rural municipalities in each of our ten working districts in Sudurpaschim and Karnali provinces, including quite remote locations. The girls had a chance to share their experiences with two celebrities from the project working area: Tika Pun (folk singer from Karnali province, photo below left) and Rekha Joshi (Deuda singer from Sudurpaschim province, photo below right). We also had contributions from Vice Chairs of our working municipalities, project funding partners and medical experts.
The celebrities described their own experiences growing up in this environment and how they deal with things now. For instance, Rekha is from Bajura and has experience of the taboos first-hand. Now she lives in Kathmandu and has a very different kind of life. She emphasised the importance of starting the change from ourselves. In addition to the discussion, we were very lucky to hear two lovely songs by the celebrities, touching on the realities of menstruation in Karnali and Sudurpaschim Provinces.
We also ran through some of the problems faced in the provinces with regard to dignified menstruation management, and the activities that RVWRMP is carrying out in support of the rural municipalities and local women and girls. In addition to training in MHM and sanitary pad making, and general awareness-raising, RVWRMP has supported the construction of school toilets that give girls privacy to wash and change pads. Some of the Vice Chairpersons also shared their experiences with the group.
The girls had a chance to ask questions, converse with the celebrities and describe their concerns. Topics included the way traditions are slowly changing and what the girls have learned from RVWRMP. Madhavi Gautam, a professor from Tribhuvan University, answered some of the medical questions posed by girls and allayed their fears.
Students shared their experiences very openly. Most got their first period at around 13 years of age, and they complained that since then, during their periods they often face discrimination in the home and community, such as having to sleep in a separate shelter, they are not allowed to eat dairy products, and are considered untouchable. Laxmi Bohara from Naugad RM Darchula - I got my first menstruation while I was 13 years old, and I cried when I first noticed my period”.
Anita Shahi from Swamikartik Khapar RM, Bajura commented: “I stay in a chhau room in the house during my menstruation. I use a sanitary pad and get pads also from school if I need them. There is a disposal system in the school. I go to the school during my period.”
Laxmi Rawal from Sarkegad, Humla, the most remote location of the group, said that she stays in a chhau hut during her period. Several other girls noted that while they don’t stay in a chhau hut, many others in their community do. Laxmi: “We go to school during the period. We used to use cloth sanitary pads before, but now RM has provided sanitary pad in the school.”
Ishwari KC, from Bhageshwor RM, Dadeldhura (photo below), said that “there were separate chhau goths earlier but now they are gone. I got my first period when I was at school, and I was frightened. I went to home and shared with my elder sister and she explained to me that I was menstruating. I get period pains and use home managed treatment. I use a sanitary pad, and I go to school during my period. There is sanitary pad vending machine in the school, and the disposal system for pads is well managed. I have been trained in sanitary pad making and I provide training at schools and in the community."
Anju Chand from Pancheshwor, Baitadi said “When I got my first menstruation, I stayed in a separate room on the ground floor that served as a chhau shelter. It was very basic and there wasn’t enough bedding. I continued to stay there for the next couple of periods. But now I am not facing such discrimination. I stay in a separate room which is equipped with similar facilities to the house (good ventilation, lighting, bedding, etc.). We get sanitary pads from female teacher or members of adolescent groups in the school. There is a change in behaviour taking place. We now know a lot about menstrual hygiene management. Students should play a role for behaviour change.”
Many girls noted that RVWRMP had provided support for pad making training and awareness raising in the school. Laxmi Bohara again mentioned: “There is no focal person assigned in my school, however the teachers provide support in MHM. RVWRMP support for MHM is crucial. There is a menstruation-friendly toilet constructed now in the school. I use a reusable pad as I was trained by RVWRMP (and also a commercial pad sometimes)."
Srijana Giri from Bogtan, Doti said that “there is less discrimination in comparison to the past, but still the problem of discrimination is there. For instance, I don’t get enough warm bedding during my period and can’t eat dairy products. But at least I don’t face any restrictions to attend school. The reusable pad making training by RVWRMP has been useful, and RVWRMP staff come regularly to visit the school."
A positive sign was that many of the girls said that their parents are respecting their voice on this issue, and they are having an opportunity to change beliefs and behaviours in their community. Many of the girls asked the celebrities to continue raising these issues - and it seems that they are keen to continue working on this topic.
We want to make menstruation a topic that everyone can discuss openly. Teenage girls are at the forefront of this behaviour change and we hope to have more of these exciting events in the future.
Thanks very much in particular for the participation of:
Nirmala Gyawali (Bhairabi, Dailekh); Nisha Thapamagar (Chure, Kailali); Naina Swar (Turmakhand, Achham); Laxmi Rawal (Sarkegad, Humla); Bhawana Khatri (Talkot, Bajhang); Laxmi Bohara (Naugad, Darchula); Srijana Giri (Bogtan, Doti); Anita Shahi (Swamikartik Khapar, Bajura); Anju Chand (Pancheshwor, Baitadi); Ishwari KC (Bhageshwor, Dadeldhura)
And of course, for the valuable participation of Tika Pun and Rekha Joshi!
Also – huge thanks to Raju Tirwa, the Social and Institutional Development Specialist, who came up with the idea of the session – and Manju Bhatta, the Behaviour Change Communication Officer, who facilitated the workshop.
RVWRMP is a long-term development project funded by the Governments of Nepal and Finland, the European Union, the rural municipalities and the users themselves.